It has been a while for Cameron Heyward since he was last out on the football field.
Of course, nobody has played a game since the Super Bowl, but for the first time in his professional career, the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end saw his own personal season end long before his team stopped playing after he suffered a torn pectoral muscle during the team’s ninth game of the season against the Cowboys.
He had already missed time prior to that, not once, but twice, which was also a first in his career. An ankle injury kept him out for a stretch of the preseason, and then a hamstring injury sidelined him in the two games leading up to the team’s bye week—the first two games of a four-game losing streak, in which the defense was clearly not prepared to be without him.
It was the 13th of November in Pittsburgh when Heyward suffered his final injury playing against Dallas, so it has already been over six months since he has played in a game. But he has been slowly working his way back into full participation, and is simply glad to be doing football activities again.
“It was exciting to be back just in Phase One, and I just wanted to keep going from there”, Heyward told Missi Matthews yesterday during a sit-down interview for the Steelers’ website. Remember, this is a six-year veteran who had hardly missed a snap before due to injury, so being unable to participate for so long due to physical limitations is quite a new experience for him.
The former first-round draft pick even admitted that it has “a little bit of that rookie feel” for him as he participates in the early phases of the offseason program, “trying to get the kinks out, get the rust off, and see if I can still strap up my helmet”.
Of course, the important information is where he is right now physically, and fortunately, he told Matthews that there isn’t really anything he can’t do. “I’m basically able to do everything”, the veteran said. “It’s just about gaining strength. I think I have all the mobility, but just trying to get the muscle memory back because I haven’t done it in so long”.
Despite the fact that he only played in seven games, and much of them doing so through injury or while recovering from an injury, Heyward still managed to post 21 tackles on the season in addition to three sacks, all of which came in the same game against the Chiefs in Week Four. He also recorded four passes defensed.
In his absence, the Steelers’ depth along the defensive line was tested significantly, and over time, they slowly learned how to step up to the plate, sustaining their play long enough for the team to advance all the way to the AFC Championship Game. The group as a whole may be better off for it as we head forward.